to Shift Power
and Mend Rifts
By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN
FEB. 23, 2014
Taking Stock in Ukraine
KIEV, Ukraine — Ukrainian lawmakers moved swiftly on Sunday to assert control over the government, racing to restore calm after a week of upheaval and bloodshed that ended in President Viktor F. Yanukovych’s flight and ouster on Saturday, and in sudden fears that the country might fall into civil war.
On Sunday, a series of bureaucratic events — a session of Parliament and the continued running of government institutions — seemed to pull the country back from the brink. As Parliament acted, even Mr. Yanukovych’s party denounced him for the deadly crackdown on protesters. And the military vowed to support the new government rather than rallying to the ousted president’s side.
In its emergency session on Sunday, the Parliament granted expanded powers to its new speaker, Oleksandr V. Turchynov, who now has the authority to carry out the duties of the president of Ukraine as well.
During his first formal address to the nation, in a recorded video that was broadcast on Sunday evening, Mr. Turchynov sought to soothe any remaining fear of the police and security services after clashes in Kiev last week left 82 people dead — the worst violence in Ukraine since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
Victory in Kiev After months of protests and a week of bloody mayhem, demonstrators in Independence Square celebrated the departure of President Viktor F. Yanukovych.
“The law enforcement structures are no longer threatening the life, health and security of the citizens of Ukraine,” he said, wearing a dark blazer and black turtleneck and standing next to a Ukrainian flag outside the Parliament building.
Mr. Turchynov, a veteran lawmaker who served previously as acting prime minister and as head of the security service, noted that Parliament had appointed an acting interior minister, who is in charge of the police, and had designated lawmakers to oversee the general prosecutor’s office, the Defense Ministry and the security service.
There were still some signs of unease on Sunday. The whereabouts of Mr. Yanukovych, who insisted in a statement on Saturday that he was still president, remained unknown. In several cities in eastern Ukraine, including Donetsk, which is Mr. Yanukovych’s hometown, and Kharkiv, pro-Russian demonstrators took to the streets to denounce the developments in Kiev.
The Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, continued to insist that Ukrainian opposition leaders had “seized power” illegally, and the Kremlin recalled its ambassador to Kiev, citing chaos. Mr. Lavrov spoke by telephone with Secretary of State John Kerry, continuing a high-level dialogue on Ukraine, though Mr. Kerry voiced support for the Parliament’s actions.
But in a broader sense, there was still an easing of fears that a deepening schism could fracture Ukraine between the Russian-leaning east and south and the pro-European West.
First, Mr. Yanukovych’s Party of Regions even turned against him, issuing a strongly worded statement that said he was responsible for the deaths last week and accusing him of betraying the country.
“The country finds itself deceived and robbed, but even this is nothing in comparison with the grief that dozens of Ukrainian families, who have lost their relatives, are feeling,” the party wrote in a statement on its website. “Ukraine has been betrayed. Viktor Yanukovych and his team are responsible for this.”
Further assurance that stability had been re-established came from the military. A statement posted Saturday on the Defense Ministry website after Mr. Yanukovych’s departure, and attributed to the ministry and the military, reaffirmed a commitment to the Constitution and expressed sorrow over the deaths in Kiev.
In Kiev on Saturday, opposition members, including Vitaly Klitschko, top right, celebrated as Ukraine's Parliament voted to remove President Viktor F. Yanukovych from office hours after he abandoned his office to protesters and denounced what he described as a coup. Credit Reuters
“Please be assured that the armed forces of Ukraine cannot and will not be involved in any political conflict,” the statement said.
In a separate statement, the military chief of staff, Yuriy Ilyin, just recently appointed by Mr. Yanukovych, said, “As an officer I see no other way than to serve the Ukrainian people honestly and assure that I have not and won’t give any criminal orders.”
Mr. Turchynov said in his address to the nation that he expected Parliament to name an acting prime minister and fill out a unity government by Tuesday.
Protesters in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, where growing numbers of right-wing street groups have clashed with the police.Converts Join With Militants in Kiev ClashFEB. 20, 2014
Former Prime Minister Yulia V. Tymoshenko, who was jailed by Mr. Yanukovych after losing the 2010 presidential election and was freed on Saturday, issued a statement saying she did not want to be considered for the premier’s post. Still, it left open the possibility that she will run for president.
The Parliament began its emergency Sunday session by adopting a law restoring state ownership of Mr. Yanukovych’s opulent presidential palace, which he had privatized. After the residence, which is in a national park, was abandoned and then opened to the public, visitors reacted with fury and dismay at the astonishing display of wealth and excess, including separate collections of modern and antique cars and a private zoo.
The vote to reclaim the palace was 323 to 0, with at least 106 lawmakers absent, most of them from the Party of Regions. One of the party’s leaders, Volodymyr Rybak, who was ousted from the speaker’s post in a similarly lopsided vote on Saturday, issued a statement on Sunday saying he intended to return to the Parliament. Other officials seemed to have fled for good.
Arsen Avakov, who was installed by Parliament on Saturday as acting interior minister, told reporters on Sunday that an investigation had been opened into 30 or more officials who may have been responsible for the violence last week in Kiev.
He also said border guards on Saturday had prevented the departure of a plane in eastern Ukraine with Mr. Yanukovych aboard, making it most likely that he was still in the country.
The center of Kiev is scorched and scarred. The streets are blackened from fires set during clashes with the police. On Sunday, people placed flowers and candles at makeshift shrines memorializing the dead. Outside the Cabinet of Ministers building, parents had their small children pose for photographs with victorious antigovernment fighters who are still armed with clubs and wearing helmets, but now stand guard over the government headquarters. Many had flowers attached to their metal shields.
To be sure, Kiev has quite a long way to go before it will feel normal again. Instead of trained police, irregular bands of antigovernment fighters now control and provide security at main government buildings, including the presidential residence, and enormous barriers of tires, scrap wood and other debris still close off the main protest zone.
In a series of votes on Sunday, the Parliament dismissed the foreign minister, Leonid Kozhara; the education minister, Dmytro Tabachnyk; and the health minister, Raisa Bohatyriova.
Several lawmakers said recreating the government was particularly urgent given Ukraine’s perilous economic situation. Russia had come to Mr. Yanukovych’s rescue in December with a $15 billion bailout and an offer of cheaper prices on natural gas.
A $2 billion installment of that aid was canceled as part of a deal reached on Friday between Mr. Yanukovych and opposition leaders, and while Western officials have said they hope to offer assistance, it was unclear how quickly that help might arrive.
Among the reasons Mr. Yanukovych turned away from signing political and trade accords with Europe in November was his unwillingness to carry out austerity measures and other reforms that the International Monetary Fund had demanded in exchange for a large assistance package.
On Sunday, the fund’s managing director, Christine Lagarde, said that there was concern about the political instability in Ukraine and that the fund could provide assistance only in response to a formal request. But she added that an economic program to help Ukraine had to be “owned by the authorities, by the people, because at the end of the day it will be the future of the Ukrainian economy.”
For the moment, though, Mr. Turchynov, the interim leader, said the priority was to restore a sense of normalcy and unity.
“Our first task today is to stop confrontation, renew governance, management and legal order in the country,” he said, adding, “We have to rebuke any displays of separatism and threats to the territorial integrity of Ukraine.”